Monday, September 29, 2008


Courtney here: this entry is a personal indulgence, rather than the usual TamFam adventures this blog is meant to record. I mentioned awhile back wanting to do some blogging regarding my own spiritual and intellectual quest, but that blog, while in full swing, is actually a forum for a whole writing group; accordingly, we post drafts of all stages in multitudinous volume. Thus, for the benefit of people with limited time, here is one excerpt from It is a composed observation, in which I spent about 15 minutes recording empirical knowledge within a 4 inch frame of reference. I recommend the activity to anyone seeking a meditative moment in her day.

4x4 Inch Square

The second one today--a lifeless preying mantis catches my attention, and I squat like a toddler to peer at it more closely. It has gone to a final repose on its back, with twiggy limbs bent at odd angles. These limbs seem to form a protective arch above the hollowed belly below them. But all inner clockworkings of this little fellow are now either dry and rattling or sucked gone. His skin surface, a simple shell jacket for now-empty innards, reflects a light amber hue. A tawny autumn leaf resting near his head seems painted from the same palette. My eyes blink appreciatively at nature's color coordination.A sidewalk forms his backdrop, and I note how the pale gray cement accessorizes itself with a curving crack, forming dark gray angles to cross beneath the center of the mantis abdomen. I shiver when a breeze makes my cheek feel cool. This moving air holds strong enough force to transport the mantis. I watch as the breeze moves him about half an inch forward, sliding his dry outer membrane which makes scratching sounds as it stirs. His head has now slid to touch a portion of the sidewalk marred by a purple stain. The blot has a circular shape which, when positioned behind the mantis head, resembles a two-dimensional halo, like the ones behind faces of saints in medieval tapestries. But I have never been one to promote insects to sainthood, and the head seems even less regal now that I notice the antenna springing from it. The little feelers have become attached to the crusty yellow leaf somehow; this remnant of tree and bit of insect cling together in their mutually dehydrated state. I have realized now he is not dead, but has just shed his exoskeleton.
Author's note: I remember playing with these bugs as a kid. More recently in my adult life, I saw a preying mantis and tried to hold it in my hand for old times' sake--but a shuddering, involuntary reaction made my hand jerk away at the last moment. What changed? I'm still not sure, but chalk it up to one more lost element of childhood innocence.
Second thought: In the Incheon, Seoul Korea airport, I noticed a woman with a few bags at her feet. She stood akimbo, in a manner suggesting solemn sentry in the midst of rushing crowds. As we neared her apparent post of duty, the object of her protection became apparent: a preying mantis was meandering between her feet, and she evidently had intentions of keeping the small life from getting crushed by heedless travelers. I wonder now if she contemplated picking up the insect to move it to safety--but then she might have experienced the same aversive reaction I had in attempting to touch a mantis with grown-up fingers.
Final Addendum: I do not have the citation for the mantis photo above. Sorry; all I can say is, I did not take it myself. I got it from some random place online and do not recall where. Charming though, isn't it.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Weekend Report

"For there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are.." -2 Nep. 2:14

Stewart Falls This past weekend we had an Honor's writing retreat up at Aspen Grove. Our own paradise, just a 30 minute drive from our apartment. The maples and aspens had just started edging into their autumn glory.


Our little man entered the Missionary Training Center (MTC) this past Wednesday! Highlights from the send-off: Eating an authentic Chinese lunch (Jerry is the expert chef) with Dad, Mom, Elder Steele, Cousin Sara Anne, and her babies, Marshall & Luke; walking Elder Steele over to the MTC; watching the glow on Elder Steele's face as he viewed some LDS Church Commercials; getting to coach him on the first time he put on that black name tag! We are so thrilled for him to keep working on his Mandarin. Anybody who wants to write him, please do. He will be at the MTC until the first week of December.
Try using, or snail mail. Here is the mailing address for the next few months:
Elder Brandon Steele
MTC Mailbox 187
AST-BRI 1202
2005 N 900 E
Provo UT 84604
The AST-BRI stands for Australia Brisbane, and the 1202 stands for his estimated departure date to Australia (December 2nd).

Monday, September 15, 2008

Weekend Report

For date night on Friday, we made an excursion to the local shopping mall in search of Chinese attire to wear to a 中秋節 (Mid-Autumn Festival) activity. Faithful readers of this blog may recall the unfortunate occurrence in a Hong Kong marketplace recently, which disturbed us so thoroughly as to prevent our purchasing a shirt while on our trip. However, prices at the mall proved more unsettling than feisty HK market girls, so we decided to hold off on the Chinese shirt purchase until next time we go to Asia.

The date night fun renewed itself when we glimpsed a fire, juggler?...while on our drive home from the mall. We halted the car, did a quick U-turn, and visited the fire dancer's bohemian art gallery. Who knew Provo had such things?
On Saturday, Jerry demonstrated how his many skills extend to simultaneous cookie frosting and sno-cone eating. We were at an autumn social for our apartment complex.

He also found amusement that morning in chronicling my addiction to checking email. The delight on my face is completely unfeigned, as I sat oblivious to the clicking of his camera shutter. Karen, I think that ridiculous grin came from reading your email regarding the activity on Saturday--we are so glad you could come!! The activity was the mid-autumn festival everybody, and we forgot our camera, but it was amazing! Lanterns, Chinese dancers, food, and games galore. I learned a few martial art moves at one booth. Thanks Chinese Ward for the great time!

Lastly, while making some bread on Sunday (one of my twice-yearly attempts), I noticed the flour gathering in sharp patterns on the outside of the measuring cup. It looked just like the iron filings I used to play with sometimes in the garage while growing up (we had a welder). Some kind of bizarre magnetic attraction created by the slick plastic flour bag. And we promise that is the end of trivial weekend reports.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

One-Year Wedding Anniversary

This might be the last post regarding our trip to Hong Kong... I sense a need to wrap it up on the blog (scrapbooking for it, on the other hand, may continue well into my nursing home days). Our final night of the trip happened to be our first wedding anniversary. The Tams know how to make a good meal, and this one proved to be my favorite of the whole trip (er, maybe I was just getting a little more comfortable with the cuisine in general).

2nd Aunt & Uncle came over, as did the aforementioned neighbor, Jeff, and Mom, Dad, and Henry were also there, of course. We had some of those famous creamy Chinese cakes for dessert--one mango, one chestnut--and even bottles of milk to drink. The milk in HK comes in small glass containers, and frequently during the trip I found myself getting tricked by it--some is fresh, "normal" milk, but other varieties list water, milk solids, and half a dozen mysteries as their main ingredients. I was none too thrilled about noticing halfway through drinking one jar of milk that it was not what I first assumed it was. The milk in the photo is "normal." I double-checked. "Glass jar milk" is one Hong Kong item Jerry misses while in the states, so we washed these two jars and brought them back with us in our suitcases.

We received several gifts for our anniversary (thanks, everyone!) and one of our favorites is from a cousin in Hong Kong: a pair of crystals with our photos imprinted on them. We will use one of the crystals for a cherished Christmas tree decoration, probably. But hey--who's thinking of Christmas before Halloween?

Actually, the next holiday in mind is Mid-Autumn Festival. We are going to a party this weekend to celebrate it. That is one benefit of a bi-cultural family: twice as many holidays!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

And more crowds

Being surrounded by countless hurrying bodies doesn't matter much--but the sweat, dust, and trash produced by those bodies can make a nightly shower feel like heaven.

This intersection photo cannot begin to do justice to the thrilling traffic paths meandering through Hong Kong. But we included the shot because it shows a man wheeling a cart (see him there, right off the curb?) and a few minutes earlier someone wheeled one of those precarious loads right through the middle of a rush of vehicles. I held my breath as taxis and double-decker busses whizzed by the cart and its handler. He dodged and weaved, and eventually made it across. HK public transportation vehicles heed not any pedestrian who dares encroach on vehicle territory. Cross-cultural comparison: in Utah, pedestrians tend to assume cars will yield to them, and thus jaywalk at all kinds of odd moments to find that yes indeed, cars often slow and halt if the driver sees a would-be street-crosser. But in Hong Kong I received strict instruction within minutes of stepping off the plane: Don't expect cars to stop for you. Sure enough, I nearly got ran over, suitcases in hand, as we walked toward the Tam apartment that first evening--and so another instruction came forth: Refrain from blindly following Jerry's mom or dad across the street. Apparently they know tricks about dodging vehicles that I have yet to learn.


I tend to instinctively think of cities with large populations as places of diversity, but Hong Kong utilized me as its token white girl on more than one occasion. Make sure to feel a bit of awe while taking in the density of this every-day crowd.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Meeting up with long-time friends

Jeff (細東), in the middle, is a friend that I grew up with, since about age 6. I can't even remember how we met. Well..., it's too long ago. We did many crazy things as teenages, including linking a rope between two sky-scrapers (on the 15th floor,) using a plastic-bag "kite."

Hanging out at arcade centers was our favourite thing to do as kids. The last night of the Hong Kong trip, Jeff, Henry, and I went down to the nearby arcade center to relive our childhood memory.

Courtney got to practice a bit of Mandarin on the trip. Our friends Cindy and her husband Poon Dong Man helped Courtney with her Chinese during this dinner gathering. Other friends pictured in this shot all hail from the original singles ward where Jerry was baptized.

Gary (?明), Don (無良), Bear-bear, Chris (嘉華) were my high school buddies, who were my confidantes. We worked hard for our exam and certainly we played and laughed hard too. It was nice to see them again in HK after 7 years of separation. Bear-bear said (to me), "You still look fit, except your belly!"

We went to a Korean BBQ with Mom, Dad, and my first bishop from the original singles ward where I was baptized. Bishop Chin is a great spiritual mentor, and we found out he also is well-informed on the US presidential candidates. (Courtney did some research on Sarah Palin when we got home--thanks for the heads up, Bishop!)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Ocean Park Continued...

Ocean Park was a highlight of the whole trip! Cable cars helped us rise above the jungle-heat below.

Jerry enticed me to go see the pandas by saying, "they are really entertaining to watch, compared to other zoo animals that just lay there, since 90% of the day pandas eat and play and move all around." That statistic might be less than scientifically accurate, or else we apparently got to the Panda family during one of their rare evening naps. All five draped themselves in various positions across their enclosures. Granted, they are incredibly adorable even while dozing.

Ocean Park!!

We went to the Pacific Reef exhibit just in time for their feeding. So if the water looks cloudy, don't worry; it's just chunks of meat floating around.

We got to the sea lions in time to see one of their afternoon feedings. This big lion took nearly every fish--couldn't believe how fast he darted through the water. His chubby little seal friends in the same exhibit got nary a bite, so Jerry double-checked with the park official, "Do they all get fed more fish later?" Indeed they do.

The new jellyfish exhibit was also a favorite. Note the similarity between Courtney's frazzled hair and the red tentacles floating beside her head...

We decided it was our own feeding time, and found the cafeteria-style restaurant at Ocean Park is not a bad deal. I had lamb curry and also tried some dragon fruit and kiwi juice for dessert.

Jerry is pretty sensitive to sour flavors.
Notice my hair is still in what could be called a french braid at this point of Ocean Park. It only remained that orderly for another fifteen minutes or so. The humidity proved itself an arch-enemy even more daunting than the scary food items, so if anyone knows tricks for how to make slightly wavy caucasian hair behave like smooth straight asian hair, please let me know. My electric hair straightener might have made a difference, but we never ended up getting a transformer for it. (is that what those devices are called?)

The photo at above right is the bus station where we departed for Ocean Park. The double-deckers are just as much a Hong Kong trademark as they are to London. (Guess the Brits probably gave this element to HK in the first place)

Next we have proof of how much Jerry's brother Henry is smitten by his sweetheart Sarah. I watched him line up this shot of her without her knowing. The following picture is the view seen from one of the attractions at Ocean Park. Breathtaking! Next Shot: Yay for the dolphin show!! We got second-row seats, where I hoped to get splashed to relieve some of my heat exhaustion. The kid laying down in this shot was an actor who pretended to fall in the water, but at first we all thought he was a real audience member who got called up to participate but then fell in. The dolphin rescued him and pushed him back up to safety. Then the sea lion rescusitated him. It was pretty cute.


I made the mistake of starting a bargaining process for a shirt I didn't really desire. Actually, I just had an honest change of mind from the time I initially started looking at the shirt to the time I decided there were more important purchases I should make instead, but this little seller with her five words of English vocabulary ("Okay," and "I go lower on price") could not understand when I tried to explain, "I need to do some other shopping first. After I find my little brother's gift, then maybe I will come back."
The seller grabbed my wrist and Would. Not. Let. Go. While Jerry's brother Henry tried valiantly to free me, telling the girl all the while how much I did NOT want the shirt anymore, (this time explaining in Cantonese), Jerry captured the moment on film. What we really should have gotten on camera is the way my arm looked after her vice-grip finally released. It had red impressions across the wrist and under my watch band that lasted for hours. These are the kind of adventures that one can only hope to have when traveling abroad.
Most of the open-air markets had fruit galore, from classic watermelons to fresh lychees...
... And some other fruits I have never seen before. These ones on the top left of the photo look like apples at first glance, but then note their elongated shape and hollow spot where the blossom has departed the fruit, and you might think it looks more like something from the Garden of Eden than a fruit from anywhere else on Mother Earth. Its flesh also is strange to me--almost transparent white, with a spongy, light crunch. Not nearly as dense as an apple. Any ideas for what this fruit is called in English? Anybody?
I also got to see and taste my first fresh fig. I have LOVED the dried ones my whole life, and found fresh equally as agreeable.
Raw meats and fish in the open-air markets were not quite as delightful to me as fruit. We did not get photos from Ngau Tau Kok market, but it gave me a memorable time for sure. The story begins with Jerry and me purchasing Taro ice cream bars at a shopping center, to lick on our walk back to his parent's apartment. He suggested walking through Ngau Tau Kok on our way back, and naively I agreed. At the precise moment the colors and chaos of that place filled my line of vision, I realized my once-delightful Taro bar suddenly tasted like a mixture of fish guts and chicken blood. Oh, wait, that is because such wretched "food parts" surrounded me on every side...! Their odors filled my nostrils, and deceived my brain into thinking the ice cream melting on my tongue was really part of the animal products perceived by my olfactory glands and occular orbs. "Please let me out," I thought desperately, but it was like a maze of booths and sellers, trapping me with every wrong turn. My ice cream was falling off its stick in the heat and humidity, but I could no longer bring myself to lick its dripping purple sides. Eventually we made it out. But by then my ice cream had dripped onto my shoes and into our shopping bag. On the plus side, the experience did not ruin taro ice cream for me--I still crave some at this very moment.
Flowers seem anticlimatic after that last tale of marketry, but I had to post this one for my sister, the floral designer. Next time you work to get arrangements to the cooler before they wilt, just remember: Hong Kong proves no refrigeration needed.

Meeting the Extended Family

4th Aunt and Uncle, and their son Peter.
Here we are striking the classic Asian finger pose (which I heard is an offensive hand sign in some other cultures?? Sorry if anyone is offended by the shot). I enjoyed being with cousin Peter because he is an English teacher, so I got to relax and chat away. Little cousin Cindy sure was darling, and I practiced a bit of English with her, too, because she says it is her second favorite subject in school.

And More Extended Family

This is Jerry's aunt & uncle whom we stayed with one night of the trip. This uncle is really sweet, and one time during a meal, he took care to note the items I enjoyed and then he prepared more of them for me (by cracking crab legs open, extracting bones from fish, etc.) so I could enjoy the dishes more easily. I felt touched by his kindness and awareness.
Jerry's cousin, a good kid. Both he and Jerry look so handsome side by side. Note the egg tarts on the table also look good; I have already found a recipe for them online and am excited to taste that delicious treat again. It is warm, creamy, buttery, and best of all, not sugary.

Dim Sum

Lotus Leaf rice was my favorite item from Dim Sum. The shrimp balls weren't bad either. Jerry even helped me try a little chicken feet this day. By little, I mean molecular measurement. It probably doesn't even count to say I tried it. Ah well, maybe next time. I really am excited to go back!

Learning to make Dumplings

Now we will just see if I can replicate this at home in Provo.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Temple and Church

Our first morning in Hong Kong was the Sabbath. Entering the church building felt like a quiet haven from the whirl of the city outside. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a distinct consistency in doctrine and format, no matter the country or culture, and I enjoyed the Cantonese speaking service while listening to an English translator via headphones.

We visited the Hong Kong temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is unique in many ways because of space restrictions. We received a greeting from the temple president himself at the door, and did an endowment session, followed by a tour of the other rooms. When we exited the temple, a newspaper reporter took our photo. We still need to Google the Sunday morning post to see if we made it to the final article.